Author's Note: Right now I'm working on finishing up updates of You Can't Take the Sky from Me and Cerulean. I honestly would have finished Cerulean tonight if not for a massive headache. Hopefully I'll be able to finish it by the weekend. Meanwhile, I've revised another chapter of this fic for posting. Here it is!
The Faerie Path
By Everything is Magic
Matthew woke him up that night.
Alfred had been sleeping lightly, still troubled and upset by what had occurred earlier that day. It took only the smallest of touches from his brother to rouse him from sleep. His eyes slid open and met with the face of his identical twin.
"Long time no see, Alfred," Matthew said, a relieved smile on his face.
The knight sat up halfway, resting his elbow on the tree bed. "Matthew?" he yawned.
"Yup. Been worried about you, eh. You've been gone for weeks." There was legitimate concern in his eyes. He was halfway into the bed, his other half hanging out on a branch.
"Really?" Alfred yawned again. "Well I-" He narrowed his eyes. "You're not real."
Matthew frowned. "You're not dreaming, Alfred. I'm really here. Centaurus came home and led me to where you were."
"Really?" He shook his head. "N-no. I know I'm not dreaming. I mean that you're not real. Period. You're… trying to lure me out."
Now Matthew looked honestly and truly confused, and Alfred half thought… this is real. How could the fae capture Matthew so perfectly? "Alfred, I'm… not sure what's gotten into you. I've heard of weird things happening when people are lost for a long while like this… I'm sure you're just…"
"Prove it," Alfred demanded. He was sitting up entirely now, and he'd grabbed his sword for good measure.
"Prove that you're my brother," he reiterated. "In our house, between the second and third level, there's a small passage. Mom said it was an error in the construction. We used it as a hideout when we were kids. What was the password?"
Matthew's shoulders fell as he sighed. "Can you let me into benorþan rice, of course. Like I'd forget that…"
Alfred gulped, his throat feeling dry. "Y-yeah… that's exactly right."
"Of course it is! I only had to use it like a thousand times, eh…"
He was clearly growing exasperated with Alfred.
"Just one more," the knight said. "What was Mother's favorite song?"
No hesitation. "Gaia Pastorela. Father used to sing it to her," he answered. He looked down, a rueful expression on his face. "He sang it to her the night before he left… to fight in the battle he died in. You and I tried to learn it for her, but we never could get the language quite right."
Alfred glanced up through the branches at the night sky. It was a starry peaceful night, and unlike previous evenings where voices had called to him, the presence of Matthew did not feel eerie at all. It felt… right.
And how could he know these things?
He trusted Arthur, and Arthur said to not leave no matter what he was faced with. But maybe the reason he trusted Arthur so stalwartly had… to do with the magic that he so claimed to want to fight against. His heart ached at the thought.
He… wanted things with Arthur to be real, not just a figment of magic influencing his mind and heart.
But that wasn't going to happen, was it?
Alfred reached across the bed and snatched his breastplate, throwing it over his arm and hopping down from the tree.
"Come on, Matthew," he said, holding his hand out to his brother. Matthew took it and followed him down out of the branches. "Let's go home."
He had a kingdom to protect, a king to serve, and people to love. He glanced back at Arthur's sleeping form, comfortable in his bed of branches and leaves.
"I'm sorry," he whispered.
Matthew smiled, soft. "Centaurus is going to be so happy to see you," he explained. "You should have seen how frantic he was when he got to our house…"
Alfred nodded. "Poor guy…"
He let out a puff of air. His mind was muddled, and he felt emotionally worn out; too distracted to be excited about seeing his brother. Too distracted by Arthur, you mean…
"I do need to get out of here," he mumbled under his breath. They were almost to the edge of the clearing.
No, it wasn't Matthew.
He pivoted around and his gaze met with Arthur's. In the moonlight, his eyes were wide, shining with unease. His mouth had dropped open, and he looked downright frightened.
"C'mon, Alfred," Matthew commanded, tugging his hand.
"Wait one second." Alfred held up a finger to silence his brother.
Arthur stepped forward, closing the distance between the two of them. His gaze was desperate, imploring. "I don't know who you are seeing or what you are seeing, but I swear to all Alfred," his voice caught, and then it wavered as he spoke the next part, "if you leave, you will…" the dark of the night could not hide the tears forming at the corner of his eyes, "you will die."
"But my brother is here and… I asked him questions no one else would know," Alfred explained. He looked away from Arthur, unable to stare at him while his expression was so forlorn. "I… know you can see him, so stop-"
"I can see nothing of the sort," Arthur cut in. "There is nothing there but you, your armor, and your longsword."
"Do you think a faerie can't find out these things?" Arthur said. "When they decide to try and lure you out with your brother, they could certainly read his memories before doing so. How could they make a convincing doppelganger otherwise?"
Matthew finally stepped forward, frustrated. He placed one hand on his hip. "Alfred, I don't know what this guy is saying, but he sounds pretty crazy. Let's get going!"
Alfred averted his eyes between the pair.
Arthur crossed his arms. "Alfred," he choked out, although he could tell that the faerie was trying to steel his voice. "You asked him questions that he should know. Perhaps that is not the right course of action. Please. Try again."
And then the sob that he'd attempted to hold back fell loose, and he rubbed his eyes in attempt to hide it. "Please… please do not leave. I… couldn't take it."
Matthew looked bewildered. "What's going on, eh?"
The knight closed his eyes for a moment, pondering Arthur's statement. Don't ask him something he should know…
Faeries are treacherous. They live for the thrill of deceit. If you ever encounter one of the fae, the best way to escape them is to be clever enough to trick them.
Ask him something that he should notknow.
He opened his eyes, staring straight into those of his brother. "Matthew."
"I'll go with you, but…" he frowned, "first I need to go back to the tree and say goodbye to my friend, you know?"
Matthew blinked, nonplussed. "What do you mean, Alfred? Arthur is right-"
From the corner of his eye, Alfred saw Arthur smile.
"I never mentioned his name, Matthew," Alfred snapped, his lips pursed in a firm line and his eyebrows narrowed.
"Well I guess I overheard it, eh." He shrugged, but it was obvious that he was growing visibly uncomfortable.
"It was never said once," Alfred interrupted. His tone was resolute, harsh and almost cutting. "You're not Matthew. Arthur was right all along…"
For just one moment, there was a sneer, a scowl of disgust on his brother's lips. And it was so unlike his twin that any doubt he had about his identity vanished then.
"You can leave now." A flinty glare. "I'm not coming with you."
The false Matthew shot an infuriated expression back at Arthur, despite the fact that the faerie could not see him, before vanishing into thin air.
Arthur ran forward, wrapping his arms around Alfred and beating his fists against his back. "You stupid, stupid, stupid idiot of man!" he yelled, his voice laced with sobs. "I almost lost you, you… right moron."
Alfred leaned into the embrace, despite his reservations about the legitimacy of his feelings for the other man, and smiled. "All right, I get it. I'm dumb."
The faerie looked up at him, fiercely protective. "You've been so good at resisting it. What made you…"
The knight gulped, a blush rising to his cheeks.
He needed to be honest with Arthur. They weren't going to be able to spend the next two and a half fortnights together if he was… trying to ignore this.
It was just magic, but Arthur still deserved to know the effect that he had on Alfred.
"Let's go back to the tree. I'll tell you there."
Alfred tucked his knees up to his chest and blew out a puff of air, his stomach a-flutter with nerves.
The pair sat together in Arthur's bed of tree branches and leaves but maintained quite a bit of space between them. The moon glowed above, illuminating Arthur, and Alfred's stomach lurched lightly at how attractive he found him, because damn… it hurt.
"Alfred?" Arthur cocked an eyebrow. He was sitting cross-legged, his hands resting near his ankles.
"Oh… right." Alfred braced himself inwardly, murmuring self-encouraging words under his breath.
He averted his eyes from Arthur's face, because saying what he wanted to say while staring at him was… proving to be extra difficult.
"Look, I know you're a good guy and this isn't your fault or anything, so don't take this like… I'm mad at you, okay?"
The faerie blinked, and his nose crinkled in bewilderment, just a tad. "W-well thank you but…"
"My mom told me a lot about faeries when I was a child. I know I've mentioned this," Alfred continued. "I thought it was all make believe, but now I realize that everything she told me was true." He scratched the back of his head and let out a short, ironic laugh.
Arthur nodded. "I still have no idea how you didn't believe in something as obvious as the fae."
Alfred rolled his eyes and shrugged. "It's not obvious. I know that… most people in the kingdom still think that stuff is real, but it always seemed kind of stupid to me."
"You're lucky the fae didn't hear you say that," Arthur replied, his tone reprimanding. "They might not have been so nice about someone finding them 'stupid.'"
Alfred stretched his legs out and bit his lip, sparing a moment to glance up at the bright spring moon. "Hah, maybe that's why they sent me here."
"As punishment?" Arthur frowned, his green eyes morose. "I doubt that. They're concerned with what punishes me."
Alfred rubbed his cheek and licked his lips, trying to focus his thoughts. "Okay, Arthur. Anyway, I know that you can't help what you do but…"
He was turning bright red, and he could feel it; creeping up his neck and across his cheeks and to his ears.
"You're a faerie, and I know that there's…" he coughed, "m-magic that causes you to uh… be… really, really attractive to me," he rushed out the last part and felt dizzy, like he wanted to pass out.
Arthur's eyes had grown huge, and he was frozen, his hands still resting on his ankles. It was as if he still hadn't quite registered Alfred's words.
"Like I said, I'm not mad at you for it! I get that… you can't help it and you just kind of exude magic and beauty or something, because faeries do that. But it kind of made me doubt how much I actually… likedyou and how much I trusted you, because who knows how much of that is real? Most of it is probably your faerie magic, right? I mean… it should have been obvious but…" he paused in his rapid babbling to take a deep breath.
Arthur's green eyes were still just as large as before, but they were now accompanied by scarlet cheeks, the color spreading all the way to the tips of his pointed ears. He gaped, his mouth opening and closing silently as if he were a fish.
"A-Alfred," he finally spoke, and his voice was quiet, shocked. "I'm… not… I'm not a faerie."
"What… but… you-your ears and eyes …"
Alfred backed up unthinkingly, his heart yammering in his chest and his throat tight and dry. His blush grew again. If Arthur wasn't a faerie…?
Arthur reached up and stroked a finger across the top of his ear, a wry small on his face. "Just from prolonged exposure to magic. I assume that… I'll gain more inhuman attributes over time, but as of right now, this is the only thing magic about me."
His heartbeat would not slow down. Damn. "You- will I get those?"
The not-faerie-any-longer let out a short laugh. "I was here in this wood for four years before they started changing, and six years before they became what they are now. You don't have to worry. As for my eyes? I was just born with green eyes, not unusual."
Arthur scooted closer to him, his green eyes genuine and honest, imploring Alfred to believe him. "I am human. I was like you, actually; a knight, loyal to my king and my kingdom. I wanted to be a hero as well, although I was never as… enthusiastic as you are. And then the faeries kidnapped me, and I could hardly fight them off; not when they brought their whole bloody legion, at least." He let out a shuddering breath. "That was ten years ago. I suppose… I also don't age while in this realm. I wouldn't be useful to the fae for very long if I did."
"H-how old are you?" Not a very consequential question, but Alfred's brain couldn't manage much more at the moment.
"I was only nineteen when I was taken," Arthur said.
Alfred nodded, numb. "So basically what you're saying is…"
Arthur's face grew scarlet once more, and he glanced away, unable to make eye contact. "I don't… know what you're feeling or… any of that rubbish, but I have no control over it. If you're feeling it…"
The shorter man just shook his head in the positive.
Alfred felt a grin cross his lips, and he laughed, bright and happy and relieved. Because heliked the way having feelings for Arthur, thinking he was totally adorable when he crinkled his nose and completely striking when he strung his bow and… charming in an odd sort of way, felt.
"Yeah?" And he was beaming at Arthur, scooting closer to him by the moment.
Arthur closed his eyes for a moment before speaking again. "I honestly don't know how you could have thought me to be a faerie. You're dafter than I thought. Faeries are beautiful and…"
Alfred frowned, jutting out his lip in a slight pout. Stupid. He was beautiful.
In the moonlight, Arthur's face was flushing even brighter. "You honestly… think that of me? That I… bloody hell, I can't even say it. All that with the magic and beauty and… the liking," he managed.
Alfred glanced up at Arthur from underneath his blond bangs and nodded infinitesimally.
"I-is that a yes?"
He nodded again, his gesture more obvious this time.
Arthur's shoulders slumped, and his lips quivered ever so slightly. "Me too," he murmured.
"You… do?" Alfred's blue eyes were wide and clear and hopeful.
"Yes, I… honestly do."
There was a soft, tender smile on Arthur's lips, and his cheeks were pleasantly pink.
Alfred threw his arms in the air and let out an enormous cheer, the giddiest of smiles on his face. "Yes!"
Arthur shook his head and chuckled at the knight's antics, but then grabbed his collar and pulled him down face to face.
There were mere inches between them, their breath was mingling and Alfred thought that up close, Arthur was even more attractive.
The distance was closed between them, neither of them quite knowing who really initiated it, and they kissed.
It was warm; warmer than a perfect spring day in the clearing, and it was sweet; sweeter than all the fruits they dined on each meal. It was as if something surged between them, connecting them like a sort of rite, like it was inevitable, or maybe… destined, because that sounded a lot more romantic to Alfred.
Arthur paused to breathe, but then went right back to kissing, his fingers running through Alfred's soft blond hair and knotting it up at the nape of his neck. Alfred laughed when he did this, the sound bubbling up in his throat and expelling itself onto Arthur's soft lips.
Warmth pooled up in his belly, and spread all over his body as he and Arthur continued their kissing. Alfred pulled away to breathe, and in the midst of doing so spread kisses all over Arthur's face. On his cheeks, across the spray of freckles, on his eyelids, on the very, very slight dimples that he had (but that he rarely smiled wide enough to show), on his forehead, and on each of his thick eyebrows. He ran a finger across the edges of each of his unusual ears and pressed kisses to their tips. Arthur shuddered at this.
His blue eyes locked with Arthur's and he dipped his head shyly. Arthur followed suit.
Arthur insisted that the fae were far more beautiful than he could ever be, but Alfred found that difficult to believe.
"God Arthur…" he said, "you are just… so cute."
It hadn't been quite the sentiment he wanted to express, but it was a start. He'd never been that great with words.
Arthur's cheeks flushed red. "Rubbish. I-I'm nothing of the sort! You on the other hand…" He pressed a kiss to the tip of Alfred's nose.
Alfred pouted, childish. "Heroes aren't cute. They're handsome or…"
"Oh?" Arthur quirked an eyebrow. "So I'm not a hero?"
He gulped. "Not… what I meant Arthur. You're an exception of course." He ran a hand through Arthur's hair and pressed a quick kiss to the crown of his head.
"Idiot," Arthur huffed, but there was a slight upturn of his lips.
Alfred reached forward again, wrapping his arms around Arthur's shoulders and back, and it fit… so well. "Speaking of heroes," he said.
He continued running his hand through Arthur's hair idly. "I was wondering… why didn't you just tell me you were human in the first place?"
Arthur stiffened, and Alfred heard his breath catch in his throat.
Gently, he pushed Alfred off of him and sighed. His eyes were downcast, barely visible beneath his sandy colored fringe.
"I-I never told you I was a faerie… did I?"
Alfred frowned, placing his hands on Arthur's forearms. "Well yeah but… you never corrected me."
Arthur glanced up, jutting his chin out and looking stubborn. "I don't recall you ever asking me, and like I said, I have no bloody idea why you would assume such a thing."
He flicked the tip of one of Arthur's ears. "It's pretty obvious. Shit, Arthur… what are you—"
"I'm sorry," Arthur rushed out. He was staring downward once more. "I… just want you to promise not to hold it against me. It was a long time ago, and you would have been but a child back then, so it's not as if we would have fought against each other and-"
Alfred's eyebrows furrowed. "Arthur, I've got no idea what you're going on about, but I'd be way more likely to be mad at you if you don't tell me."
Arthur nodded, and he relaxed slightly and exhaled. "I told you I was a knight. Well I was a soldier, at least. I fought well and was strong and revered amongst my ranks."
"Y-yes," he said. "Earncynn? I know your kingdom well. I decided to be silent on who I am the moment you revealed that you were a knight under that banner…"
"What do you-"
"I'm a prince, Alfred."
Alfred laughed. "Wow, really?"
"Of Léoena," he finished, making eye contact with the other man. He scowled and shook his head. "Look, I understand if… you don't want to you know now, but please don't leave because of it. You still have to stay until the solstice."
All across the isles, kingdoms were constantly at war with other kingdoms. There were times of peace for some kingdoms, but there was hardly ever a time when at least a few kingdoms weren't at war.
And Earncynn and Léoena were almost always against each other. For decades, there had been an on again off again war between the two neighboring kingdoms, and even Alfred had fought against them. Peace, as many times as treaties were put forward and even signed, never lasted. It was an age old feud, and even though things were peaceful at the moment, who knew what would happen in the future?
Had Arthur fought against people he cared about? He was too young to have fought against or killed Alfred's father…
"Look, Arthur," he replied, his voice breaking, "I'm a knight, so I know things. I'm familiar with every member of the royal family of Léoena, from King Rory to Princess Iona. I think I'd know if there was ever a Prince Arthur."
Arthur's thick eyebrows rose and he frowned, disconcerted. "Rory is king now? You're talking rubbish. What about Cadwgan?"
"Cadwgan abdicated the throne about eight years ago. He… wanted to find himself or something. I think he's got a castle far north now, and about five thousand sheep."
He wrinkled his nose. "Sounds like Cadwgan. Who is Iona? Did Rory have a daughter?"
"What a shock. Someone was barmy enough to marry him…" He scratched his head. "Nonetheless, I have little doubt that you know… a fair amount about my family, but there are some secrets that they do manage to keep." Arthur raised his eyes to meet Alfred's. "Like me. Prince Arthur, third child of King Odell of Léoena."
"But there is no-"
"Belt up and let me finish!" Arthur snapped. "Only those close to the kingdom knew. I was a very sickly child, from the day I was born. You know how the royal family of Léoena is. One sign of weakness and they'd rather like to disown you. So they kept me a blasted secret, because they thought I made the family look weak. And by the time I grew out of it, I was nearing a decade old." He ran a hand through his hair. "Despite the fact that I was so often ill, I still trained and practiced… and when I had enough energy to do it, I was an excellent archer. I hadn't taken up the longbow yet, because my body was far from strong enough for it, but I could handle an ordinary bow with… rather unmatched precision, if I do say so. Once I'd been past my illness for a few years, they threw me out in the military, although they at least had the decency to let me be in charge of a large faction of troops. Father died and Cadwgan took the throne while I was away, and before I could come home and speak to Cadwgan, I was… taken."
Alfred gritted his teeth. "If you're telling the truth… that's horrible of them. Arthur, I'm so sorry… I knew Léoena was bad news, but I didn't think they'd be this bad."
"Don't be foolish, Alfred," Arthur said. "Every kingdom is like this. There are good kings and bad kings, and Earncynn has had its share of corruption as well. I know Léoena is known as a warrior kingdom, but I assure you that not every king was like my father."
The knight began picking at the branches that made up the bed. "It's true that things have calmed down a lot in recent years. I've fought against knights from Léoena a couple of times, but it's mostly been small skirmishes in border villages…"
Arthur nodded. "Rory is a right arse, and we never did get along, but he's not completely rotten."
"Iona's only eight, but she's engaged to be married to the youngest prince of Earncynn when she turns fourteen," Alfred said. "It was… an arrangement to keep the peace."
"I hope she likes him, at least," Arthur grumbled. "I suppose one good thing about being a prince that everyone denied the existence of was that I was never forced into an arranged marriage."
Alfred bit his lip, his posture going lax. "I kind of… am…"
"The king is dropping giant hints that he wants me to marry his daughter Katyusha… but I…"
"D-do you plan on doing so?" Arthur asked, and Alfred couldn't miss the way he choked on his words.
He shook his head vehemently, waving his hands in front of him. "N-no way! I never wanted to. I mean she's nice and pretty, but I just wasn't interested. I probably would have done it anyway, because I'm a hero but…"
Alfred leaned forward and placed his fingers under Arthur's chin, brushing their noses together. "Now? No… I couldn't do it now, even if I tried."
Arthur's cheeks blushed hot at this. "Then you're not… going to break this off because…"
He pressed a quick kiss to the prince's lips. "I guess it's a good thing you didn't tell me at first, even though it's really unheroic to hide stuff like that. I… might not have given you as much of a chance."
"Git," Arthur huffed. "I gave you a chance."
Alfred chuckled. "I can't exactly stop liking you, and I wouldn't want to if I could." His cheeks were flushed and bright. "I mean, I really, really like you."
"I feel the same." Arthur ran his fingers up Alfred's face and yanked his stubborn cowlick of hair lightly. "So you believe me?"
"It seems a pretty fancy story to make up," Alfred said with a shrug. "Plus… everything else you've told me, even if it sounds crazy, has turned out to be true."
"That's rather true…"
Alfred took Arthur's hand in his. "But… I do kind of wanna know something…"
He bowed his head. "Earlier you said you were like me, and you wanted to be a hero. Is that true, or was it… just something else you made up?"
Arthur's green eyes went wide, and his mouth dropped open in an 'o.'
He squeezed Alfred's hand. "I suppose that coming from you, this question shouldn't surprise me." He took a deep breath. "I meant it. I fought for Léoena, and I was damn good at it. But… at the back of my mind, especially considering my relationship with my father, I always dreamed of using my skills with the bow for something I wanted to do. Of course I wanted to help people. All of that bloodshed Alfred? It's pointless. Who even remembers why Léoena and Earncynn started fighting? It's bollocks."
Alfred shifted uncomfortably, because while he was happy, ecstatic even, that Arthur meant what he said about being a hero, the last part…
Arthur was right.
Alfred squeezed his hand in return. "I have an amazing plan."
"Whatever would that be?" Arthur quirked an eyebrow skeptically.
"I told you from day one, I'm going to save you," he said, and his voice was firm and full of conviction. He snatched Arthur's other hand and ran his fingers up and down both of them. "More than ever now, I'm not leaving this clearing until I know I can rescue you as well."
Arthur's eyes widened and he let out a quiet noise of surprise. "That's… moronic. You can't fight the fae. No one can…"
Alfred shook his head wildly. "I can, and I will. And when I get you of here? This is the plan, by the way. You'll be free. You won't have to fight for your father's army any longer, and you can use your bow to protect people and… be the hero you wanted to be, right?"
He was smiling now, his eyes sparkling with confidence in the words he spoke.
Arthur's face flushed pink, and one side of his lips quirked up. "I would like that," he said, "but I don't suppose you have any ideas on how to get me out? Because I sure as hell don't, and I've been thinking on it for a decade."
The knight wrapped his arms around Arthur again, fierce and protective and tight. "We've got time Arthur. We will do it. Hero's promise, okay?" He lowered him down into a lying position on the bed and continued to hold him, pressing a kiss to his forehead as he did so.
Arthur merely nodded, not wishing to argue with him at the moment. Not when instead, he could be doing what he was doing now; being held in his arms.
The gentle thrumming of their heartbeats and the sounds of night insects lulled them off to sleep within minutes, and they stayed that way until morning, their arms around each other and Arthur's head resting in the crook of Alfred's neck.